The Sixers took a stick of dynamite to the back end of their bench on Thursday, trading away Marcus Morris, Furkan Korkmaz (finally!!), Danuel House Jr., fan favorite Patrick Beverley and Jaden Springer along with four second-round picks. In return, they landed longtime #FutureSixer Buddy Hield, Cameron Payne and two second-rounders.
The haul proved to be divisive, particularly with the Sixers in free fall as of late. Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, though, the Sixers made one thing clear at the deadline: They were prioritizing their offseason flexibility above all else.
Hield is on a $19.8 million expiring contract, so he doesn’t impact the Sixers’ ability to carve out enough cap space to offer a max deal to a free agent this offseason. In fact, by dumping the $4 million owed to Springer in 2024-25, the Sixers opened the possibility of having $60-plus million in cap room. However, Joel Embiid is the only player on the roster who’s on a guaranteed contract for next season. Tyrese Maxey isn’t going anywhere either, but beyond that, the Sixers have an entire roster to fill out this summer.
That’s a problem for later. First, they need to focus on the now.
After sending five players out at the deadline and taking only two players back, the Sixers opened three roster spots. One appears reserved for Kyle Lowry if he can secure a buyout from the Charlotte Hornets, while another should be earmarked for a big man after the Sixers failed to address that spot at the deadline. The likes of Spencer Dinwiddie, Danilo Gallinari and Joe Harris are already reaching the buyout market, while other veterans are soon sure to follow.
After their wheeling and dealing at the deadline, the Sixers now have roughly $160.4 million of salary on their books this season, which leaves them nearly $4.9 million below the $165.3 million luxury-tax threshold. Hield does have a handful of unlikely-to-be-earned incentives in his contract, including bonuses for reaching the conference finals or the NBA Finals, so the Sixers will want to leave themselves some breathing room below the deadline to account for that.
Anyone whom the Sixers sign to a minimum contract will cost less than $1 million (likely in the $650,000-700,000 range), so they could hand out three min deals and call it a day. But the Sixers do have another tool at their disposal if they find themselves in a bidding war for one of their preferred buyout targets: their untouched mid-level exception.
The Sixers gained access to the non-taxpayer MLE by dipping that far below the tax line, which they could spend up to the first apron ($172.3 million). They didn’t escape the tax at the deadline just to jump back into tax territory, though, especially since that would trigger the repeater tax for them next year. Still, they could use up to $4.9 million of their MLE and stay below the tax, although Hield’s incentives will factor into how much they’re actually willing to use.
Beyond being able to offer more money than contenders without an MLE, the Sixers could also offer multiyear contracts to any players on the buyout market. They wouldn’t want to meaningfully affect their offseason flexibility, but they could include a non-guaranteed 2024-25 salary if the players were amenable to it. That should give them a major leg up over suitors that have already used their respective MLEs.
Looking ahead to the offseason, Embiid is on a guaranteed contract for $51.4 million, and the Sixers will keep Maxey’s $13.0 million cap hold on their books until they conduct the rest of their free-agent business. Paul Reed’s $7.7 million salary for the 2024-25 season won’t become guaranteed until January unless the Sixers win a playoff series this year.
If the Sixers do win a series and Reed’s salary becomes guaranteed, they could create around $58.4 million of cap space with Embiid and Reed under contract, Maxey’s cap hold on their books and nine incomplete roster charges (roughly $10.4 million combined). If they don’t win a series and can waive Reed this offseason without a dead cap hit, they could create nearly $65 million in cap space.
To do so, they would have to renounce the rights to all of their free agents other than Maxey and trade their 2024 first-round pick. That includes the newly acquired Hield as well as Tobias Harris, De’Anthony Melton and Nicolas Batum, among others. Given the dwindling supply of top-end talent on the free-agent class, it’s fair to wonder what they might do with that much cap space, or whether they’d be better off operating as an over-the-cap team so they can re-sign everyone via some variation of Bird rights.
The Cap Space Plan isn’t necessarily a binary choice, though. For instance, they could keep Melton’s $15.2 million cap hold on their books and still create $44.3 million in cap space with Reed’s salary guaranteed or $50.9 million without. If they wanted to re-sign Hield and renounce everyone else, they could still have somewhere north of $35 million left over.
They also don’t have to spend all of their cap space in free agency alone. They could also use it to facilitate some trades that are unbalanced salary-wise, which could be particularly valuable this offseason as the full array of second-apron penalties kick in. The Atlanta Hawks already salary-dumped John Collins last offseason, and more teams could follow suit with pricey, starting-caliber players this summer. (Here’s looking at you, Andrew Wiggins.)
Having a nearly blank slate this offseason seems to be unsettling for some Sixers fans, who are conditioned to automatically pivot to the worst-case scenario. There’s no denying the floor of this strategy, either. The new CBA effectively forces teams to reach the salary floor by opening night, so the Sixers will need to quickly use however much cap space they elect to create this summer.
There’s no denying the potential ceiling of this strategy either, though. Signing LeBron James or Paul George in free agency might be among the best-case scenarios, but the beauty of maintaining flexibility is that it could open additional options that you don’t even know about yet. Depending on how the playoffs go and the draft lottery shakes out, the Sixers could be in prime position to optimize Embiid and Maxey’s supporting cast this offseason.
Either way, this is shaping up to be a franchise-defining summer.